Creating ritual is a journey that begins before the actual event. There’s a sense of yearning for something you haven’t yet imagined. It needs time to rise, like bread dough, until it begins to take shape in your mind. Inspired by my sixtieth birthday rite of passage, a Croning Ceremony seventeen years ago, I began to envision gathering a group of women elders whom I love to bless my memoir before I sent it out into the world.

Preparation began the day before: cleaning the house, setting a table for seven, picking roses from the garden for a centerpiece, and laying out ingredients for an egg casserole recipe I’ve had since I was a young mother, rich with cream and grated cheddar cheese.

In the morning, I arranged chairs around our old oak coffee table. On a hand-woven cloth, I placed my book, Burning Woman, at the center with sticky notes in sections I had chosen to read, flanked by two of my masks, Transformation and Fire. A tall blue taper in a brass candle holder with a dragon curled around its base completed the altar. I was ready for my guests.

I love ritual that transforms what can seem ordinary into something sacred through loving attention: breaking bread, sitting together in circle, lighting a candle, telling stories, giving a blessing. Because sacred space is intimate, there would be no photos and the stories others told would be held in confidence.

After brunch, each of us found our place around the altar and sat in silence for a few moments. I lit the candle and opened with a greeting. Looking into the eyes of my friends, I felt held in love. I lifted the Transformation mask, a mythical bird of prey with fierce, hooded eyes and a long, pointed beak. This piece was inspired by a ritual dance of the Inuit people about the dark night of the soul. My own life mask, the impression of my face in plaster gauze, is the inmost layer, revealed only when with the beak of the menacing bird opens.



Over time I realized that all of my art masks represent aspects of myself. Through them I came out into the world…masked. Yet I could not write my memoir without telling my story entirely unmasked, in vulnerability and in strength. This truth telling has been a demanding journey. There were times when I questioned why I was doing this.



It gave me courage to know that personal experience, shared authentically, is universal. I hoped that women and men who read my story will feel seen and supported in their lives, and proud to be elders in a culture that often denies our value. When I placed the transformation mask on my face and opened it to reveal the artist, the writer, the creative spirit that has always been there, I felt a profound sense of release. I set it down on the table and picked up my book.  I was ready to share the BURNING WOMAN story with my friends and receive their blessing.

I opened Burning Woman, Chapter 1, and began to read, “It was late afternoon when I fell….”